'Tribal' refers to a deck archetype that focuses the deck around creatures of a particular creature type. The goal of these decks is to use the abilities of these creatures in tandem with one another to make them more powerful than the creature cards would be on their own.
Tribal decks seek to amplify the power of their creatures by taking advantage of the interactions they create with other creatures of the same type. A common way these interactions are described is through the equation "1 + 1 = 3". Though the creatures may be less powerful compared to other standalone creatures, the high density of creatures that share a type with it may allow it to have more impact upon the game than non-tribal creatures. For instance, the creature Elves tribe a player controls. On its own, this creature would produce as much mana as a simple , but costs more mana. In tandem with other Elves tribe, however, the mana output becomes much greater than creatures are normally able to produce.produces mana based on the number of
Because of their reliance upon creatures, tribal decks frequently mimic play patterns of decks that fall within the Aggro description, and usually build up a large army of creatures which they will use to attack their enemies for lethal damage. This is not true of all tribes, and some tribes may be more explicitly combative than others, but it is a common strategy among most tribal decks.
Tribal decks will normally select a commander that is either a member of the deck's tribe, assists or facilitates the strategies of that tribe in some way, or both. The preconstructed decks from Commander 2017 in particular were focused upon tribal strategies.
- 'Lords' are also a common piece of tribal decks. The term 'Lords' loosely describes a creature that gives a power and toughness boost (and sometimes keyword abilities) to creatures of a specific type. The name originates from cards like . (These are distinct from 'Anthems', which are noncreature versions of this effect, and which are named after the card .) Lords are a popular way to allow tribal decks to make their large number of creatures into powerful armies that their opponents will have difficulty defeating in battle.
- Tribal decks also make consistent use of extra spells, enchantments, and artifacts that directly name a specific creature type, or which allow a player to select a creature type, and then offer a reward to creature of that type. Examples of this include , , , or .
- Many creature types in Magic do not have a large number of cards of that particular type, nor do they do not contain a high number of cards that directly reward cards of that type. Players who choose to build around less-represented creature types in this way will frequently make use of ubiquitous tribal cards that allow them to select any creature type (such as or the aforementioned ). They may also make use of creatures with the keyword Changeling, which have all creature types. Examples of Changeling creatures include and .
- There is no specific density of creature cards required to make a deck fall within the 'tribal' category. A tribal deck does not need to meet a specific threshold or quota of creature cards within a certain type in order to be deemed 'tribal.' Some tribal decks may also include creature cards that are not of the specified creature type, because those creatures provide the deck with boons in other ways. Magic also historically contains creature cards of one creature type that directly assist creature cards of a completely different type, such as .
- A general expectation is that a tribal deck will include a high number of creatures overall, and that at least 75% of the creature cards will fall within the scope of the selected creature type, but this is not a hard-and-fast requirement, and many tribal decks do not fit within these parameters. For example, some players may use spells that create tokens of a specific creature type, rather than actual creature cards. Faeries tribe tokens, which a player may then utilize for Faerie tribal synergies. , for instance, creates
Tribal as Noncreature Descriptor
- The term "tribal" is also occasionally used to to describe decks that do not center themselves around a creature type, but rather a specific keyword ability. For instance, "flying tribal" decks utilize a high number of creatures with flying, regardless of their creature types, and contain a significant density of cards that explicitly reward creatures with that ability (such as or ). Because these cards mimic the effects commonly seen in decks based upon a particular creature type, the term "tribal" is borrowed to describe the deck's overall theme.
- Occasionally players may build around a non-tribal theme, but in the pursuit of that theme, may discover that a high density of the creature cards they have chosen happen to share a creature type. An example of this phenomenon is the 'big mana' strategy, which involves a player using a high number of 'mana dorks' (creatures that can produce mana) to help play very large spells faster than other players. Because a high number of creatures that produce mana happen to be Elves tribe, the pursuit of the 'big mana' strategy may have unintentionally taken a similar form to an Elf tribal deck. Players may use this to their advantage and lean into these accidentally tribal elements, or ignore them completely, but it is a deckbuilding conundrum worth noting whenever a non-tribal theme also happens to include a high density of traditionally tribal elements.
Tribes by Color
Each color in Magic has specific creature types that it cares about more than others. Many tribal decks share creature types across other colors. Below is a list of some of the most popular creature types used in tribal Commander decks, and the color they most commonly appear in. (Note that many of these types will also exist in other secondary or tertiary colors.)
A list of tribes and their popularity in EDH may also be found here.